Strategies and tools for getting through a break up

post by lululu · 2015-05-18T18:01:45.047Z · score: 37 (34 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 44 comments

Contents

  Background:
  Strategies (in order of importance)
    3. Create a social support system
    4. Intentionally practice differentiation
    5. Make use of the following mental frameworks to re-frame your thinking:
    Over the relationship vs. over the person
    Obsessive thinking and cravings
    What you lose
    Additional Reading:
  Addendum:
    Comparisons and self-esteem:
    Milestones:
    Long Tail of Sadness:
None
52 comments

Background:

I was very recently (3 weeks now) in a relationship that lasted for 5.5 years. My partner had been fantastic through all those years and we were suffering no conflict, no fights, no strain or tension. My partner also was prone to depression, and is/was going through an episode of depression. I am usually a major source of support at these times. Six months ago we opened our relationship. I wasn't dating anyone (mostly due to busy-ness), and my partner was, though not seriously. I felt him pulling away somewhat, which I (correctly) attributed mostly to depression and which nonetheless caused me some occasional moments of jealousy. But I was overall extremely happy with this relationship, very committed, and still very much in love as well. It was quite a surprise when my partner broke up with me one Wednesday evening. 

After we had a good cry together, the next morning I woke up and immediately started researching what the literature said about breaking up. My goals were threefold:

 

  1. Stop feeling so sad in the immediate moment
  2. "Get over" my partner
  3. Internalize any gains I had made over the course of our relationship or any lessons I had learned from the break up

 

I made most of my gains in the first few days, by day 3 I was 50% over it. Two weeks later I was 90% over the relationship, with a few hold-over habits and tendencies (like feeling responsible for improving his emotional state) which are currently too strong but which will serve me well in our continuing friendship. My ex, on the other hand (no doubt partially due to the depression) is fine most of the time but unpredictably becomes extremely sad for hours on end. Originally this was guilt at having hurt me but now it is mostly nostalgia+isolation based. I hope to continue being close friends and I've been doing my best to support him emotionally, at the distance of a friend.  Below are the states of mind and strategies that allowed me to get over it more quickly and with good personal growth. 

Note: mileage may vary. I have low neuroticism and a slightly higher than average base level of happiness. You might not get over the relationship in 2 weeks, but your getting-over-it will certainly be sped up from their default speed.

 

Strategies (in order of importance)

1. Decide you don't want to get back in the relationship. Decide that it is over and given the opportunity, you will not get back with this person. If you were the breaker-upper, you can skip this step.

Until you can do this, it is unlikely that you will get over it. It's hard to ignore an impulse that you agree with wholeheartedly. If you're always hoping for an opportunity or an argument or a situation that will bring you back together, much of your mental energy will go towards formulating those arguments, planning for that situation, imagining that opportunity. Some of the below strategies can still be used, but spend some serious time on this first one. It's the foundation of everything else. There are some facts that can help you convince the logical part of brain that this is the correct attitude. 

More arguments depend on your situation. Like leftover french fries, very few relationships are as good when you try to revive them, it's better just to get new french fries. 


 

2. Talk to other people about the good things that came of your break-up.  (This can also help you arrive at #1, not wanting to get back together)

I speculate that benefits from this come from three places. First, talking about good thinks makes you notice good things and talking in a positive attitude makes you feel positive. Second, it re-emphasizes to your brain that losing your significant other does not mean losing your social support network. Third, it acts as a mild commitment mechanism - it would be a loss of face to go on about how great you're doing outside the relationship and later have to explain you jumped back in at the first opportunity.

You do not need to be purely positive. If you are feeling sadness, it sometimes helps to talk about this. But don't dwell only on the sadness when you talk. When I was talking to my very close friends about all aspects of my feelings, I still tried to say two positive things for every negative thing. For example: "It was a surprise, which was jarring and unpleasant and upended my life plans in these ways. But being a surprise, I didn't have time to dread and dwell on it beforehand. And breaking up sooner is preferable to a long decline in happiness for both parties, so its better to break up as soon as it becomes clear to either party that the path is headed downhill, even if it is surprising to the other party."

Talk about the positives as often as possible without alienating people. The people you talk to do not need to be serious close friends. I spend a collective hour and a half talking to two OKCupid dates about how many good things came from the break up. (Both dates had been scheduled before actually breaking up, both people had met me once prior, and both dates went surprisingly well due to sympathy, escalating self-disclosure, and positive tone. I signaled that I am an emotionally healthy person dealing well with an understandably difficult situation). 

If you feel that you don't have any candidates for good listeners either because the break up was due to some mistake or infidelity of yours, or because you are socially isolated/anxious, writing is an effective alternative to talking. Study participants recovered quicker when they spent 15 minutes writing about the positive aspects of their break up, participants with three 15 minute sessions did better still. And it can benefit anyone to keep a running list of positives to can bring up out in conversation. 

 

3. Create a social support system

Identify who in your social network can still be relied on as a confidant and/or a neutral listener. You would be surprised at who still cares about you. In my breakup, my primary confidant was my ex's cousin, who also happens to be  my housemate and close friend. His mom and best friend, both in other states, also made the effort to inquire about my state of mind. Most of the time, even people who you consider your partner's friends still feel enough allegiance to you and enough sympathy to be good listeners and through listening they can become your friends. 

If you don't currently have a support system, make one! OKCupid is a great resource for meeting friends outside of just dating, and people are way way more likely to want to meet you if you message them with a "just looking for friends" type message. People  you aren't currently close to but who you know and like can become better friends if you are willing to reveal personal/vulnerable stories. Escalating self-disclosure+symmetrical vulnerability=feelings of friendship. Break ups are a great time for this to happen because you've got a big vulnerability, and one which almost everyone has experienced. Everyone has stories to share and advice to give on the topic of breaking up. 

 

4. Intentionally practice differentiation

One of the most painful parts of a break up is that so much of your sense-of-self is tied into your relationship. You will be basically rebuilding your sense of self. Depending on the length and the committed-ness of the relationship, you may be rebuilding it from the ground up. Think of this as an opportunity. You can rebuild it an any way you desire. All the things you used to like before your relationship, all the interests and hobbies you once cared about, those can be reincorporated into your new, differentiated sense of self. You can do all the things you once wished you did.

Spend at least 5 minutes thinking about what your best self looks like. What kind of person do you wish to be? This is a great opportunity to make some resolutions. Because you have a fresh start, and because these resolutions are about self-identification, they are much more likely to stick. Just be sure to frame them in relation to your sense-of-self: not 'I will exercise,' instead 'I'm a fit active person, the kind of person who exercises' not 'I want to improve my Spanish fluency' but 'I'm a Spanish speaking polygot, the kind of person who is making an big effort to become fluent.'

Language is also a good tool to practice differentiation. Try not to use the word "we," "us," of "our," even in your head. From now on, it is "s/he and I," "me and him/her," or "mine and his/hers." Practice using the word "ex" a lot. Memories are re-formulated and overwritten each time we revisit them, so in your memories make sure to think of you two as separate independent people and not as a unit.  

 

5. Make use of the following mental frameworks to re-frame your thinking:

Over the relationship vs. over the person

You do not have to stop having romantic, tender, or lustful feelings about your ex to get over the relationship. Those type of feelings are not easily controlled, but you can have those same feelings for good friends or crushes without it destroying your ability to have a meaningful platonic relationship, why should this be different?

Being over the relationship means: 

 

 

On the other hand, being over a person means experiencing no pull towards that person, romantic, emotional, or sexual. If your break up was messy, you can be over the person without being over the relationship. This is often when people turn to messy and unsatisfying rebound relationships. It is far far more important to be over the relationship, and some of us (me included) will just have to make peace with never being over the person, with the help of knowing that having a crush on someone does not necessarily have the power to make you miserable or destroy your friendship. 

Obsessive thinking and cravings

If you used a brain scanner to look at a person who has been recently broken up with, and then you used the same brain scanner to look at someone who recently sobered up from an addictive drug, their brain activity would be very similar. So similar, in fact, that some neurologists speculate that addiction hijacks the circuits for romantic obsession (there is a very plausible evolutionary reason for romantic obsession to exist in early human tribal societies. Addiction, less so). 

In cases of addiction/craving, you can't just force your mind to stop thinking thoughts you don't like. But you can change your relationship with those thoughts. Recognize when they happen. Identify them as a craving rather than a true need. Recognize that, when satisfied, cravings temporarily diminish and then grow stronger (you've rewarded your brain for that behavior). These are thoughts without substance. The impulse they drive you towards will increase, rather than decrease, unpleasant feelings. 

When I first broke up, I had a couple very unpleasant hours of rumination, thinking uncontrollably about the same topics over and over despite those topics being painful. At some point I realized that continuing to merely think about the break up was also addictive. My craving circuits just picked the one set of thoughts I couldn't argue against so that my brain could go on obsessively dwelling without me being able to pull a logic override. These thoughts SEEM like goal oriented thinking, they FEEL productive, but they are a wolf in sheep's clothing.

In my specific case, my brain was concern trolling me. Concern trolling on the internet is when someone expresses sympathy and concern while actually having ulterior motives (eg on a body-positive website, fat shaming with: "I'm so glad you're happy but I'm concerned that people will think less of you because of your weight"). In my case, I was worrying about my ex's depression and his state of mind, which are very hard thoughts to quash. Empathy and caring are good, right? And he really was going through a hard time. Maybe I should call and check up on him.... My brain was concern trolling me. 

Depending on how your relationship ended, your brain could be trolling in other ways. Flaming seems to be a popular set of unstoppable thoughts. If you can't argue with the thought that the jerk is a horrible person, then THAT is the easiest way for your brain's addictive circuits to happily go on obsessing about this break up. Nostalgia is also a popular option. If the memories were good, then it's hard to argue with those thoughts. If you're a well trained rationalist, you might notice that you are feeling confused and then burn up many brain cycles trying to resolve your confusion by making sense of a fact, despite it not being a rational thing. Your addictive circuits can even hijack good rationalist habits. Other common ruminations are problem solving, simulating possible futures, regret, counter-factual thinking. 

As I said, you can't force these parts of your brain to just shut up. That's not how craving works. But you can take away their power by recognizing that all your ruminating is just these circuits hijacking your normal thought process. Say to yourself "I feeling an urge to call and yell at him/her, but so what. Its just a meaningless craving."

What you lose

There is a great sense of loss that comes with the end of a relationship. For some people, it is a similar feeling to actually being in mourning. Revisiting memories becomes painful, things you used to do together are suddenly tinged with sadness. 

I found it helpful to think of my relationship as a book. A book with some really powerful life-changing passages in the early chapters, a good rising action, great characters. A book which made me a better person by reading it. But a book with a stupid deus ex machina ending that totally invalidated the foreshadowing in the best passages. Finishing the book can be frustrating and saddening, but the first chapters of book still exist. Knowing that the ending sucks isn't going to stop the first chapters from being awesome and entertaining and powerful. And I could revisit those first chapters any time I liked. I could just read my favorite parts without needing to read the whole stupid ending. 

You don't lose your memories. You don't lose your personal growth. Any gains you made while you were with someone, anything new that they introduced you to, or helped you to improve on, or nagged at you till you had a new better habit, you get to keep all of those. That show you used to watch together, it is still there and you still get to watch it and care about it without him/her. The bar you used to visit together is still there too. All those photos are still great pictures of both of you in interesting places. Depending on the situation of the break up, your mutual friends are still around. Even your ex still exists and is still the same person you liked before, and breaking up doesn't mean you'll never see them again unless that's what you guys want/need. 

The only thing you definitely lose at the end of a relationship is the future of that relationship. You are losing something that hasn't happened yet, something which never existed. The only thing you are losing is what you imagined someday having. It's something similar to the endowment effect: you assumed this future was yours so you assigned it a lot of value. But it never was yours, you've lost something which doesn't exist. It's still a painful experience, but realizing all of this helped me a lot. 

Additional Reading:

http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Dealing_with_a_Major_Personal_Crisis

Addendum:

Comparisons and self-esteem:

Brains are built to compare and optimize, so one difficult problem I've faced in the months after the break up was seeing my ex date other people. I had trouble because my unconscious impulse is to think "he has chosen them over me." This thinking pattern is instant, unconscious, and hard to break. And it comes with a big hit to either self esteem or my willingness to humanize these actual humans he is dating.

It was helpful to remind myself that the break up occurred because the relationship was broken. There is a heavy opportunity cost to date someone with whom it can never work out or with whom you are not happy. That opportunity cost is the freedom to seek a better relationship. So I shouldn't be comparing myself to any flesh-and-blood person. He chose opportunity and freedom over me. And its just not possible to compare yourself to a a concept like that in a way that makes sense. The people that come as a result that choice are irrelevant.

Milestones:

It took me 2 weeks to be over this particular relationship, it took me a month and a half to not wish I was in some relationship, to get excited and happy about being single. It was 3 months before dating and experiencing new people started to sound like it might be fun/interesting.

Long Tail of Sadness:

During the period after the break up, for about 3 months, I had to be extra careful to have enough sleep, drink enough water, get sunshine, eat enough, and meditate. If my physical state was normal, I almost always felt great, acted normal, and rarely thought about my ex. But if I let myself get into a physical state which would normally cause a generalized bad mood, I would more often find myself ruminating on the break up. Sleep is medicine.

44 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-05-19T06:58:53.779Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

One thing I would like to add - maybe it was there just I missed it - is to tell yourself it is OKAY to feel sad. Let your feelings from from true thoughts. If it is true you loved or still love him / her - and a long relationship with a breakup initiated by the other makes it pretty likely - it is perfectly normal to feel sad. It is perfectly normal to not want to get over it, because you cherish the feeling of love even though it hurts now to a letting go.

Another very true thought here where feelings should flow from - I took it from my former Buddhist practices - is impermanence. ALMOST EVERY relationship ends badly: break-up or one of them dies. Humans are fragile and have a shelf-life of like 80 years.

There are these rare cases where they both die at the same time or like grandparents case where by the time grandpa died grandma was so demented that she hardly noticed. Even this are not really happy endings, a double tragedy cannot really be defined as a happy one, and seeing your loved one become an, um, "old fart" and yourself alongside has its own bittersweet sadness as well, I figure. Although we joke that 50 years later we will do wheelchair racing in the assisted home center but in reality we regret every year our relationship loses a bit more off that youthful sexual energy.

The lesson here is to start and conduct relationships with a consciousness of impermanence so there are no nasty surprises: it will almost certainly end badly. One will grieve over the breakup or death of the other.

OTOH I suspect that being conscious of impermanence plays a role in why I am in something like a constant state of light depression. It is sort of hard to get really enthusiastic over things when you know you will lose everything you cherish one way or another with very high probability.

comment by ZacHirschman · 2015-05-19T15:56:58.226Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The impermanence of things is an excellent reason to get really enthusiastic about them.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-05-19T16:07:31.900Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."

:-)

comment by bogus · 2015-05-19T16:23:51.233Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"YOLO #yolo"

:-)

comment by Salemicus · 2015-05-19T14:41:31.137Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The lesson here is to start and conduct relationships with a consciousness of impermanence so there are no nasty surprises

To me, the whole purpose of a relationship (as opposed to a casual fling) is to make investments that will pay off down the road. This requires a sense of indefinite permanence. Yes, your direct relationship will end eventually (death) but your investments, such as the family you create, can continue forever - in that sense the relationship you have built need never end.

If your lesson is truly a good one, why is it that all the successful marriages I'm aware of are based on absolute and indefinite commitment? Or is my sample non-representative? How many successful marriages do you know that are conducted with a consciousness of impermanence?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-05-20T14:17:28.692Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Now I am confused. "Till death does apart" is BOTH an absolute and indefinite commitment and a consciousness of impermanence. For example the novel cliche "and they lived forever ever after" lacks the later part. Forever vs. death.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-05-19T15:46:32.671Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

being conscious of impermanence plays a role in why I am in something like a constant state of light depression.

You're in good company.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-05-19T15:32:55.263Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

OTOH I suspect that being conscious of impermanence plays a role in why I am in something like a constant state of light depression. It is sort of hard to get really enthusiastic over things when you know you will lose everything you cherish one way or another with very high probability.

In something of a similar state. The other issue I struggle with is that I rolled a really high score for equanimity - coincidentally another Buddhist value, along with a consciousness of impermanence - and I've long wondered what role that plays as well. Descriptions of Buddhist enlightenment sound more like deep clinical depression than not to me, but it's possible there's information that isn't being conveyed.

comment by lululu · 2015-05-19T21:25:03.547Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe the information that isn't being conveyed is the subjective experience of being inside a brain reshaped by meditation practice?

Smiling Mind is an excellent and very low commitment course on the basics of mindfulness meditiation. http://smilingmind.com.au/

comment by lululu · 2015-05-19T20:52:33.308Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It is perfectly normal to not want to get over it, because you cherish the feeling of love even though it hurts now to a letting go.

There is a certain sweetness and poetic appeal to being sad for love's sake, though I'm not sure if it is a healthy thing to wallow in for extended times.

On the other hand, suppressing your sadness directly is a sure way for those feelings to become stronger and more powerful, feeling suppression is an ironic process. The stronger your efforts to suppress your unhappiness, the more powerless against them you become. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ironic_process_theory).

Like rumination, sadness must be acknowledged and then dismissed. A helpful attitude is something like "I am sad now and I have permission to be sad now, but I will not let the current sadness stop me from attempting things that might make me happier. Sadness is just a disembodied thought and so is powerless to forever control my actions."

So I think I understand your gist, but the phrasing is a bit off. I don't think it is helpful to advise people on how to get over it if they don't want that. I also think it counts as dwelling in and ruminating on sadness, which is an unhealthy way of dealing with feelings. And I also think the people who don't want to get over it wouldn't be seeking out this post.

I'm going to edit the post to mention meditation. Mindfulness meditation is a third wave technique with fantastic clinical results in reducing sadness and rumination. The attitude of mindfulness allows you to become aware of your thoughts without dwelling in them or being trapped by them. You assess each thought or feeling, acknowledge it, and move on to the next one.

If you have slight depression, it seems like your brain might be biased to notice the passing of good things more often than the bad, despite the knowledge that all things pass. All negative feelings are just as temporary as positive ones, all negative life events are just as temporary as positive ones. If you appreciate Buddhism, but you might find that you grock the impermanence of sadness and negative things better if you take up mindfulness mediation. After learning meditation techniques, just 5 minutes of maintenance meditation a day did as well as medication for alleviating mild depression, about as long as brushing your teeth takes.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-05-20T11:21:02.250Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Mindfulness meditation is a third wave technique

Sure, if third wave means 500 BC roughly :) I suppose you mean something like vipassana or Zazen where the object of meditation is breath. esp. breathing out.

I tried that like a lot, as I used to have a huge interest in Buddhism. The results are not very good. Zazen worked for me only when and if my posture was perfect, such as using a high pillow and under the tailbone only, not sitting on it, which IMHO corrects for the usual anterior pelvic tilt and the local teacher pushed down my shoulders like a dozen times because I tend to pull them up to my ears, then it worked. When I just sat on a pillow or chair and tried to hold myself more or less erect, nope. The less perfect posture used in Tibetan originated gompas. No luck.

I don't know how strongly Westernized, clinical version of it focuses on posture. They usually just tell people to sit up straight. People then pull their shoulders back a bit, but it does not correct the lower back. You can never have a perfect lower back on a chair. I don't think this works this way, at least for me it never did.

Also, we should consider what is the goal. The goal of vipassana / Zazen is to achieve a state of mind that is a bit like getting high on acid. A really bright but objectless awareness. When the posture is perfect, Zazen achieves it by making the breathways really easy, that and looking at a white wall with eyes 45 degrees cast down tends to generate this objectless awareness.

The Tibetan versions also often included visualizing some lights that is probably a better idea. I like the idea that you visualize shooting rainbow lights at people from your heart center and this light making them happy. It is supposed to increase compassion, and if it does, that can be actually useful against ruminations. There are also the more "religious" stuff like mantras or buddha-forms meditations.

comment by lululu · 2015-05-20T19:40:20.141Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hahaha, third wave for psychiatry...we're pretty slow on the uptake.

I'm only familiar with the clinical western version, which is mindfulness based. So the main focus is on being aware in the current moment of sensations in your body and how they change. Basically just noticing. Also a very high emphasis on acceptance and gentle redirection back to the present moment when you notice that thoughts begin to form. Posture is whatever position is comfortable: a straight backed chair or laying on the ground.

I can see the similarities between the meditations you describe and the western version, but I can also definitely see why the practice has been modified to be more forgiving if it's aimed at depressed people. What you describe sounds very exacting which is probably not great for someone prone to berating themselves out of proportion. Most of the western versions I've heard include something like the phrase "if your mind wanders, this is to be expected. Your brain is a thinking machine and it's designed to do just that. Just gently bring it back to your breathing for as long as you can whenever you notice it wandering again."

I would be interested in trying to original versions. I attempted something like lovingkindness meditation, which is Tibetan and involves imagining and feeling compassion for someone you love, then trying to feel the same compassion for someone you feel neutral about, someone you don't get along with, then everyone. It seemed to have good results.

comment by lululu · 2015-05-19T21:26:23.210Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Smiling Mind is an excellent and very low commitment course on the basics of mindfulness meditiation. http://smilingmind.com.au/

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-05-18T21:02:38.697Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What you did is awesome! Break-up and still help.

I like and support all of your advice. I had a comparable experience and a comparable approach.

Decide you don't want to get back in the relationship.

For me that wasn't a decision. It was the 'logical consequence' from the question of whether there was any way she's still love me. If there was I'd have persevered. But it wasn't so.

Litany of Gendlin: "What is true is already so. Owning up to it doesn't make it worse."

Once I realized that it was like you you: My unconditional love drained

...by day 3 I was 60% over it. Two weeks later I was 99.5% over the relationship,

And I could act again! I saw opportunities. But yes

Revisiting memories becomes painful, things you used to do together are suddenly tinged with sadness.

For me it helped to to accept the shared past experiences as good in themselves. If it were happy moments then, why shouldn't they still be happy memories? Somehow I managed to detach their effect of reminding me of the loss. Probably because I dealt with the loss first - as you did.

And I fully second your recommendation:

Internalize any gains I had made over the course of our relationship or any lessons I had learned from the break up

comment by lululu · 2015-05-18T22:06:33.268Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It was very helpful for me to read your wiki about your break up, some very good advice there! I think it is also very helpful to see people who have gone through difficult break ups and returned to their normal level of happiness. Impact bias makes it hard to remember that very few things have lasting negative effects on happiness.

comment by Username · 2015-05-18T20:46:33.784Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

LW wiki's Dealing with a Major Personal Crisis is alike this.

comment by lululu · 2015-05-18T21:27:41.504Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I read during my initial research and I really appreciated the last section, New Directions, as directly relevant to my situation

comment by Elo · 2015-05-19T04:56:45.271Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

why don't you update it with some of your suggestions?

comment by lululu · 2015-05-19T18:13:25.937Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Partially because I forgot that it was a wiki, thanks for the reminder! I don't know, though, it's a very personal story of one person's journey, super narrative based. I think it might be more appropriate if I linked to this from there and they remain separate.

comment by Elo · 2015-05-20T12:12:44.367Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

yes, probably a link somewhere as "additional reading"

comment by Andy_McKenzie · 2015-05-18T20:39:34.684Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

One of the best posts I've read on LW in awhile. Love the book metaphor.

Totally honest question here, and please feel free to not answer this if you'd rather not: how can you tell when a relationship is a rebound relationship?

comment by lululu · 2015-05-18T21:57:12.178Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not totally sure about how to classify a rebound relationship, a cursory Google search shows that most of the sources on this are Cosmo and Yahoo Answers. I define it to myself as a relationship which is started because of the end of a prior relationship. It is either to stop from being lonely or to move on from the ex. The new relationship is compared and/or contrasted with the old one. The new one doesn't have room to become it's own thing. Usually they seem to move faster and burn out sooner than normal relationships. But that is just my definition, anyone else have any thoughts on how to answer this question?

And thank you!

comment by lululu · 2015-05-18T21:58:41.589Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I should say that research shows people had better outcomes recovering from break ups when they started dating someone. I'm not sure if this is because it makes you feel wanted, because of selection bias (more people who dated were ready to date), or because the new relationship itself. On the other hand, overwhelming colloquial knowledge has it that rebound relationships are not a good idea, but I couldn't find actual any evidence to that effect. I'm not totally sure which to believe; the science is strong evidence from a small sample size, colloquial evidence is weak evidence from a huge sample size.

comment by Andy_McKenzie · 2015-05-20T03:11:34.062Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting data and makes sense. My intuition is that colloquial knowledge is positing a short run vs long run trade-off, in so far as you're more likely to settle in a rebound relationship, and then this could set you up for another break-up and associated long-term unhappiness. Short-term studies are not well-suited to address this.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-05-19T05:00:28.739Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting...that's impressively fast, well done! Would be interested in an update if you still feel this way in a few months if you don't mind (loss sometimes doesn't really hit till later)

Also, gender? Gender differences are nontrivial here (apparently due to gender differences in caretaking and number of friends, but I do wonder if that's really all it is...but even then i imagine with a depressed partner you had a big caretaking load)

comment by lululu · 2015-05-19T21:38:58.944Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I will definitely update in a few months! I'm curious too...

Very interesting link! Gender differences are definitely non-trivial, I'm just not sure in which ways.

In my specific case he had a slightly easier time securing post-breakup dates because he already was dating someone (however that someone is pretty emotionally unhealthy by any measure, herself going through a psychological crisis). My low conscientiousness meant that, despite improving in this realm, he did more of the traditional caretaking (chores, cooking, cleaning), meanwhile I got a heavier emotional caretaking load. He is certainly more socially isolated than me. And the break up definitely hit him harder.

I wish I could speak more to gender in a general way, I'm just not sure exactly how a breakup differently effects someone who is not my gender, and I have a very hard time in my case of separating which effects are gendered and which are personal (depression, consciousnesses, etc)

comment by lululu · 2015-07-14T15:41:51.896Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Update added as an addendum above!

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-09-15T00:53:17.747Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the update! It's hopeful / helpful to know that the quick recovery was indeed fairly permanent. Wish I could say my process was going that well!

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-05-18T18:23:55.481Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you used a brain scanner to look at a person who has been recently broken up with, and then you used the same brain scanner to look at someone who recently sobered up from an addictive drug, their brain activity would be very similar.

How do you know? To me that sentence raises "neurobabble" warning signs.

comment by lululu · 2015-05-18T18:43:46.092Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Here are a couple of the papers I saw that described this similarity:

Addiction isn't the only thing that happens in that part of the brain, and that isn't the only part of the brain that is active. But the addiction/craving similarity is the most useful metaphor for someone going through a break up because it emphasizes that wanting something very strongly is not the same thing as it being good for you, and getting what you want does not make the wanting go away.

You are right, though, that paragraph is pretty neurobabbley. I have a tendency to use a lot of unnecessary jargon so I try to reduce it as much as possible. And also, this is my first post on LessWrong. Should I edit above?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-05-18T20:40:22.500Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure about whether you should edit your text, but citations and/or footnotes would be a good idea.

comment by Elo · 2015-05-19T04:58:18.183Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

edit above! Most people don't mind edits; just write

Edit: Sources added.

comment by Pinkpanther · 2016-02-05T18:06:48.203Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've been broken up with 2 weeks ago after a 2-week relationship, it maybe a short period, but it was devastating for me since it's the first time someone take the initiative to break up with me, never felt that before. I practically used the same approach as you, but i wonder if i'll be over my ex someday. I feel like i haven't enjoyed his company enough while in the relationship. In fact, when i see guys that are way hotter than him, i won't feel any attraction for them, and i would bring all the good things about him even if i know that he has many vices i wasn't happy about. I fear that all of this thoughts stops me from getting over him..

comment by oge · 2015-06-28T18:51:14.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hey lululu, this was a great article! I found it very useful in dealing with rejection by a long-standing crush. Thanks for writing this.

I'm curious: what was your process for determining the best way to get over a relationship? Did you just search for that term in Google Scholar?

comment by lululu · 2015-06-30T18:45:20.059Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That was my method!

comment by adamzerner · 2015-05-20T15:21:47.729Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Decide you don't want to get back in the relationship

Hmm, but what if you do want to get back in the relationship? What if you legitimately judge that doing so will make you better off?

I have a very basic understanding of it, but this situation reminds me of Newcomb's problem and TDT. If you could precommit to not doing what's "rational", then you'll be better off. In this situation:

  • Consider the question of "what should I do if I have an opportunity to re-enter the relationship in the future?"
  • Assume that you judge that re-entering the relationship will make you happier than not doing so.
  • But, as you say, thinking this is likely to cause you unhappiness stemming from the hope.
  • So, assuming that it's unlikely that you'll be given an opportunity to re-enter the relationship, you're probably better off deciding that you wouldn't re-enter the relationship, even if you judged that it'd make you happier than not doing so.
  • But how could an expected utility maximizer ever do such a thing? When option A has a higher expected utility than option B, how could an expected utility maximizer chose option B?
  • My first thought is, "because by doing so, you won't suffer from the hope".
  • But then why not just say that you'll chose B over A... and then when given the opportunity, chose A over B? I could understand why it'd be rational to (try to) precommit to choosing B. But I can't understand why, at the moment, it's rational to chose B.
comment by lululu · 2015-05-20T19:46:52.658Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Assume that you judge that re-entering the relationship will make you happier than not doing so.

This holds true if you are comparing it to being single and lonely, but off-and-on relationships bring only slightly more happiness than singlehood and much less happiness than stable relationships. By reentering the old unstable relationship you are incurring a very heavy opportunity cost of the greatly increased happiness you could get from a new and stable relationships you could enter into.

This logic falls apart in a poly relationship, though.

comment by adamzerner · 2015-05-20T21:03:22.190Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In a relationship that had gone on->off->on->off... multiple times, I could see why it'd be unlikely that re-entering the relationship would make you too happy. But what about...

a) A relationship that had just gone from on-> off? I imagine that there are cases where the expected utility of going back on is very high. And where it'd be hard to find someone else with whom you could be as happy.

b) A relationship that was declined from the get go?

I realize that these cases aren't what you were explicitly talking about in your post. And so I should have been more clear about what I'm referring to. I'm thinking about the more general question of what to do when you've been denied and when you think that if the other person changed their mind, entering a relationship with them would be rational from an expected utility standpoint.

comment by bogus · 2015-05-18T21:01:22.475Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

My partner also was prone to depression, and is/was going through an episode of depression. I am usually a major source of support at these times.

Um, if you find yourself being consistently "a major source of support" to a relationship partner with no real reciprocation, this ought to raise major alarm bells, in and of itself. Especially if that partner is "also prone to depression". The fact that your partner then sought to open up the relationship unilaterally (you didn't date, and remained closely attached to him) just seals the deal. I realize that your post is not about how to sustain relationships and avoid breakups but come on, your relationship was hardly free of "strain" and "tension". There might have been no overt strain, but that's not the same thing.

comment by lululu · 2015-05-18T21:45:32.643Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

For the purposes of this post, it isn't meaningful what state my relationship was in when it ended. Many or most people reading this will have much less peaceful break ups than I (although maybe less surprising)

I do think you're making a lot of assumptions with this. I never said he didn't reciprocate. I don't require emotional support because I am very calm, as I said, with a very low neuroticism. On the other hand, I'm in the 5 percentile for conscientiousness (barely conscientious at all!), so he kept me from losing things, kept me on time, kept me on task, made sure I completed projects I cared about, did extra chores, and cleaned up after me without complaint. A healthy relationship is difficult when both partners need exactly the same amount of support in the same areas.

I actually wanted to have an open relationship several months before he requested it, but I wrote it off as an impossibility until he independently raised the possibility. I was excited about the new options, but I also became the founder of a start-up in this same time window, which is astoundingly time consuming, and this on top of a day job. Not dating wasn't really a product of my lack of excitement about the possibilities of dating.

All that said, obviously he wasn't happy in the relationship and it did come as a surprise at the time, so I clearly wasn't noticing something, or noticing something and not acknowledging it. I do think our continuing friendship is something of a good sign for the overall state of the prior relationship at the time it ended though.

comment by bogus · 2015-05-18T22:13:07.841Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I do think you're making a lot of assumptions with this. I never said he didn't reciprocate. I don't require emotional support because I am very calm, as I said, with a very low neuroticism. ...

Thanks for providing this info - this does clear up a lot of things. Updating now. Still, I do have to wonder if a relationship can be sustained in the long term when one of the partners is not engaging emotionally to an appreciable extent, if at all - even if that's because of their admirable calmness and low neuroticism - and the other suffers from depression, which generally comes with its own kind of emotional withdrawal. IME, this looks more like folks just doing things together, hanging out, than anything resembling an enduring relationship. The fact that you were "providing support" does not really change things much - again, that's not a good position to be in anyway.

comment by lululu · 2015-05-19T19:41:52.708Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

By using the word calm, I think I did a poor job of explaining what neuroticism means and implies. I think the Wikipedia page would be best for this, but my own experience is that I feel the same range and variety of emotions, I just deal with negative emotions in an extremely healthy and productive way, so the duration of negative feelings tends to be shorter and positive feeling tend to last longer. My attachment style is secure and my empathy is unusually strong, so from at least my perspective it wasn't a relationship of two people just doing things together.

Depression and depression medications both cause emotional blunting, though. So at times I know he felt like he was just going through the motions. The feeling wasn't specific to the relationship but included other aspects of life: friends, work, etc. People in deep depression tend to perpetuate it by imposing their own social isolation, which is a very maladaptive behavior. This emotional blunting is, in the end, the factor that ended our relationship.

But assuming that a relationship between a depressed person and a healthy person is necessarily of low quality is reasoning that leads in a direction I am strongly opposed to.

I don't think a relationship with a severely depressed person is likely to last as long (though I don't have data on this). But I emphatically wouldn't discourage people from dating for that reason. I'm having trouble explaining why, I feel so strongly about this. Not pursuing romantic love because it doesn't last forever or isn't absolutely perfect is... not the correct approach for optimising human happiness. For a depressed person, social support can create larger gains in net happiness because the starting happiness is so low, even if the absolute happiness doesn't get as high. I certainly don't regret our relationship, we both gained a lot from it.

Often when I talk someone who doesn't know my ex, and I tell them I recently broke up, they immediately invent a laundry list of reasons our relationship was low quality. As I give more information, their suggestions become more and more confident and specific, but just as far from reality. I'm happy to share what actually factored into our break up, in the spirit of full disclosure.

In addition to emotional blunting, my low conscientious became more stressful as his energy levels dropped. New relationships are more intense, which means a larger appeal to someone with blunted emotions--the new but non-serious person he was dating reminded him of the possibility. Finally, neither of us had ever planned to make a marriage-level commitment so our threshold for breaking up was probably lower than people working towards that goal. I hope this is helpful for getting a better picture.

comment by bogus · 2015-05-19T20:51:02.063Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For a depressed person, social support can create larger gains in net happiness because the starting happiness is so low ...

For the record, I do agree with this. I would never suggest that a depressed person should not be dating - far from it. In fact, I wouldn't even see such a relationship as being "low quality" in any real sense. What I meant to say is that I would certainly put more effort than usual into keeping the emotional channels open - and yes, this would be separate and in addition to the usual support you might give to someone who's going thru depression. Because, while social support and attachment are related, they're not the same thing, and it's all too easy unfortunately to work towards the former while neglecting the latter.

comment by lululu · 2015-05-20T19:25:09.124Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Definitely! Attachment was the main problem I think. Attachment requires a confluence of a lot of happy emotions at high levels and in connection with a specific person. Happy emotions yes, but not at high enough levels I think.

For the record, after I wrote my last post I realized I had never actually asked him if my best guess of why he ended it was accurate. According to him, mostly accurate but my low conscientiousness was less of a factor then I assumed, but low energy was a factor in terms of me wanting to do things with our mutual friends and him not wanting to.